The Indiana Economic Development Corp. has unveiled the full list of finalists for the second annual Innovate WithIN pitch competition. The event gives high school students from throughout the state the opportunity to win thousands of dollars in cash, as well as internship and mentorship opportunities by pitching their business ideas. IEDC President Elaine Bedel says nearly 160 pitches were initially submitted, representing about 425 students from 88 different high schools throughout the state.

In an interview with Inside INdiana Business, Bedel described the importance of engaging students in innovation and entrepreneurship from an early age.

"I think that’s where it has to start," said Bedel. "If you come out of either high school or even college and you really haven’t thought about the idea of starting your own business or solving a problem with an innovation, you might end up getting into a career that’s not nearly as fulfilling if you’ve got the creativity and the ingenuity to want to do something like that on your own. We’re just hoping that we can supplement what I know a lot of the schools are already doing in STEM education by having this kind of a competition that gives them the idea that there’s a value in doing this."

Nine of the 11 finalists won regional competitions earlier this year with the final two winning an online "wildcard" vote to advance. Each regional winner received a $1,000 cash prize. Each member of the first place team in the state competition will receive a $10,000 cash prize, $10,000 toward one year of in-state tuition, paid internship opportunities and mentoring services.

The finalists for the 2019 competition include:

  • LyfePack, led by Cameron Klein, Colten Mouzin and James Hancock at Rivet High School in Vincennes, developed a tech-integrated, kevlar backpack that promotes energy efficiency and improves student safety.
  • Kolt Electronic Solutions, led by Koltan Hauersperger and Brooks Wathen at Jennings County High School in North Vernon, plans to create a power line monitoring system that tracks voltage and detects obstructions and damages.
  • Urban Harvest, led by Jesse Kogge at the Academy of Science and Entrepreneurship in Bloomington, plans to utilize indoor hydroponic farms and a vending machine-style distribution system to combat food deserts.
  • 3D Printing Filament Waste, led by Steven Bass, Austin Robinson and Daniel Joven at Greenfield-Central High School in Greenfield, developed a cost-effective recycling method for polymers used in 3D printing.
  • Calm Balm, led by Kaleigh Newton and Allison Santa Rita at Noblesville High School in Noblesville, created and marketed all-natural lip balms utilizing essential oils to relieve stress.
  • RearVue, led by Andrew Romes, Alex Termini and Faith Spencer at Hobart High School in Hobart, seeks to improve bicycle safety through a distance measurement sensor harnessing LED technology to warn cyclists of approaching vehicles.
  • Empathy Easel, led by Kristina Rea at Adams High School in South Bend, designed and packaged custom art kits allowing its customers to express their emotions through artwork.
  • Millie & Mabel, led by Lillian Herrmann at Manchester Jr.-Sr. High School in Manchester, created a line of homemade jewelry aimed at empowering Hoosier women and helping boost their confidence.
  • Other Side, led by Kaikeyi Paxton and Karissa Nielsen-Baker at Purdue Polytechnic High School in Indianapolis, developed custom office supplies for left-handed individuals.
  • Student Services, led by Isabel France, James Booth and Kallen Kelsheimer from Wabash High School in Wabash, started a business specializing in lawn care and other services for homeowners in northeast Indiana.
  • Puma Sips Coffee Shop, led by Zoey Lewis and Dawnyai Jones from Indianapolis Metropolitan High School in Indianapolis, launched an in-school, student-run coffee shop.

Bedel says one of the new facets of the competition this year was involving middle school students in the process. 

"At each of the nine regional competitions, we invited middle school students to come and go through an ideation session just to get them thinking," said Bedel. "The whole purpose of this program is to really push down even farther this whole idea of innovation and entrepreneurship and really get our students in high school and now even in middle school thinking about is it that they would like to create or what do they see as a solution to a problem they may be familiar with and get them started thinking along those lines and potentially having a business model that can be implemented down the road."

The 2019 Innovate WithIN state competition will take place April 4 in Indianapolis. You can learn more about the competition by clicking here.

Bedel described the importance of engaging students in innovation and entrepreneurship from an early age.